BANGKOK -- President Barack Obama on Sunday launched a three-day tour through Southeast Asia in Bangkok, where his motorcade departed the airport and made the trek along wide open highways into the center of the city, then past the Government House which was decked out in bunting and a large sign reading "Welcome to the Honorable Barack Obama."
We arrived outside the Wat Pho Royal Monastery, a colorful and ornate Buddhist temple in the Phra Nakhon district.
Reporters were led to the open archway of a room with a golden Buddha and dark marble floors. This was the Eastern Viharn Phra. A faux tree towered behind the statue and the ceiling was painted red with gold medallions.
A few minutes later head monk Chaokun Suthee Thammanuwat, wearing a bright orange robe over one shoulder, led Obama, dressed in dark gray suit, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a royal blue pantsuit and gold necklace, into the room.
Reporters couldn't hear what they were saying as they circled the Buddha; the monk appeared to be explaining things for a few minutes before they left.
We were then taken to another large hallway dominated by a huge reclining gold Buddha, which stretched the length of the building.This was the Viharn of the Reclining Buddha, and we were instructed to remove our shoes before entering. Again the monk led Obama and Clinton for a stroll past the giant figure, which dwarfed them all.
Our third stop was in the courtyard where the trio strolled past a number of colorful spire-like columns. This was the Phra Maha Chedi Group. The place was empty of tourists for the president's private tour.
This reporter overheard Clinton say: "What a peaceful place," and Obama responded: "If you have 80,000 people here it's not so peaceful. This is kind of a treat." Obama was making a joke about the budget, saying to the monk, "Yes we're working on this budget, we're going to need a lot of prayer for that." And they laughed.
The motorcade left about 10 minutes later, headed for the hospital to visit the king.